Utilize Your Winter Down Time for Certification - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Utilize Your Winter Down Time for Certification

During the winter months, if your crews aren’t busy with snow care, you might be looking for ways to keep them engaged and involved.

Working to get your team Landscape Industry Certified is one way to make the most of the slower months while providing professional development opportunities for your employees.

“This is the time when they have the opportunity to specifically teach them industry best practices,” says Margo Rash, NALP’s director of professional services and programs.

Why Certification

For those newer to the industry, certification can help develop individuals in the skills and knowledge they are lacking while those who have been in the industry for years can learn additional pieces of information.

“It does require concentrated effort,” Rash says. “Your 20 years in the industry does not guarantee you a passing grade. This is very typical of a college course where you have to attend class, read the book and study. This is a concentrated time now for them to do that and even together if two of them or more were willing to work together to educate each other.”

Rash says certification not only requires you to know how to do something but why you’re doing it, so individuals need to understand the science behind the task.

“They have to be able to read the question and then from a series of possible answers they have to choose the best one, the one that’s most correct,” Rash says.

Valerie Shuford, NALP’s manager of professional services and programs, notes the exam can be more difficult for those who have only had one or two years of experience but those who have 15 years of experience shouldn’t assume they don’t have to study.

“It’s a combination of their work experience and their reading of the books and the study materials,” Shuford says.

Rash says individuals typically spend four months studying for the exam, but she says making a concentrated effort over three months combined with industry experience is doable. Some choose to study before they enroll, while others decide to study after they enroll for the exam.

How It Works

There are six different certification types: business manager, exterior technician, interior technician, horticulture technician, lawn care manager and lawn care technician.

The certification exam is typically 2 to 4 hours, depending on which one you choose. The business manager exam has seven modules and covers everything from corporate finance to strategic planning. Meanwhile, the lawn care technician and horticulture technician exams focus on the science of plants and turfgrass. The exterior technician certification is more about the maintenance of landscapes and is also offered in Spanish.

NALP can help guide individuals to the right certification exam that is the best fit for them if they are unsure which is the right one to take.

“Once you enroll and when you’re ready to take the exam we send the link immediately,” Rash says. “It’s an invitation that gives them the ability to set up the exam on the date and time of their choice, so they have full flexibility on that. Then it’s just a matter of showing up for the test.”

Rash stresses that the certification exam assumes the individual has a certain level of skills and expertise.

“Certification assumes that you’ve been in the business and know the standards and the steps,” Rash says. “So, if that’s not the case then certainly those are the areas that need concentration because we’re being very specific in our exams where we’re asking people to identify steps in sequential order.”

Tips for Success

If you’re considering pursuing certification this winter, here are some tips on how to best prepare for the exam. Shuford suggests setting aside an hour or even 20 minutes a day to studying.

“Set up designated times during your day when that is what you’re planning to do,” Shuford says. “It’s just like when you were in school when it was time for class or it’s time to be studying. That was all that you were doing.”

Companies planning to certify a number of their staff over the winter should take advantage of that by setting up group study sessions.

“The key is that the commitment has to also be at the company level,” Rash says. “If you want your people to be certified then you have to help them in that pursuit and that effort.”

Rash and Shuford both advise taking the exam section by section as the pass rate is much higher taking one module at a time.

Shuford says individuals can choose how far apart they want to space the tests. They have the flexibility of doing it at different parts of the same day, a week later or a month later.

If someone doesn’t pass they have to wait 30 days to retake the exam and they have to pay a retake fee and the proctor fee again.

“Take the time and do your due diligent study,” Rash says.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.

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